Friday, April 18, 2014

Alaska History Lesson: The Good Friday Earthquake

I was looking for some recent news about earthquakes, and I found the most fascinating information about the 50th anniversary of the Good Friday Earthquake in Alaska. Sometimes the web is a wonderland.

If you have some time this weekend, I highly recommend a documentary, Though the Earth Be Moved, of the first 72 hours after the earthquake. I couldn't get it to embed, but here is the link.

Here is a photo tour of Alaska after the earthquake.

Here are photos from the USGS Photographic Library and lots of additional information here.

Here is a fact sheet on Enduring Legacies. (It turns out that this earthquake helped prove a lot of theories about subduction zones and plate tectonics.)

Many films are available from the Alaska Film Archives.

And many more links can be found here.

All of this was fascinating, but it makes me glad I live in a state that doesn't have a lot of threats of natural disasters.

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Thursday, April 17, 2014

First Step: Ann Arbor Open Is Allowed to Abandon the NWEA MAP Test

Ann Arbor Open parents got this letter today from Kit Flynn, Ann Arbor Open's principal:

Dear parents, 
AAPS Superintendent Dr. Swift, (in consultation with LeeAnn Dickinson-Kelly, Dawn Linden and me), has decided to forego any further administration of the NWEA MAP Test for Ann Arbor Open School. There is agreement that this particular measure is not the best fit for our program.
The balloons were not part of the letter
Kit Flynn sent out. They reflect my feelings.
I took the picture from this free clip art site:

The teachers at Ann Arbor Open are committed to preparing all of our students for any required assessments that are mandated by the district and the state. Quality instruction includes quality assessment as part of the learning process. Our goal is to inform students and parents on areas where students show growth or may need further support, and to inform teachers on the instructional needs of specific students. We believe that authentic learning of needed skills will result in student growth, and want to use assessments that we believe will contribute to their success.
The district assessment committee's charge is to examine current assessment practices, understand state requirements, clarify core values and bring forward proposals to inform and advise an amended Assessment Plan for 2014-15. They will begin meeting soon.
While the district assessment task force begins their work, we will also be considering how to best measure our students' growth. Ann Arbor Open staff will spend time reviewing possible assessments and methods for monitoring progress for our students, especially students who need additional support or are below grade level in key curricular areas.
The staff members of Ann Arbor Open are feeling very grateful today - grateful to our supportive parent community, and grateful to the leadership of Ann Arbor Public Schools for acknowledging our program's unique needs.


Kit Flynn

I hope this is the beginning of a trend. I think this decision means that right now the only Ann Arbor middle school giving the MAP test is Scarlett Middle School. However, all of the other elementary schools are still giving the test.

Also, the long-awaited Assessment Task Force is going to start meeting next week.So, in general--toast this small success, but recognize it for the baby step that it is, and let's keep working  toward more authentic assessment, and less testing.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Passover, Pedagogy, and Liberation

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(I know! I put that at the top! Radical, right? Initially, it was an accident, but the good kind. By the way, if you do try and subscribe by email, remember that you need to "verify" your subscription.)

What follows is a repost from April of 2011. While I am busy preparing for Passover (and since--fair play--I'll have a Good Friday post up on Friday) I thought I would repost this discussion of a major Passover theme--liberation--and why the Passover Seder is such a fantastic example of good educational practice.

So here it is.

Passover, and...

Pedagogy of the Oppressed

Several years ago, we asked friends and family coming to our house for the holiday to each focus on a particular section of the Passover Seder. Seder means "Order" in Hebrew, and at Passover, Jews tell the story of the Exodus from Egypt at a Seder, using a Haggadah, a book that means "Telling," and that has a certain order to it. One of the sections of the Haggadah is called Maggid, loosely translated as the Story. In other words, it's the narrative.

So, my friend brings this question about the Maggid section:
This is the Story part of the Haggadah, but there is no story here--at least, no story about the Exodus. Instead, there is a description of four kinds of children (wise, wicked, simple, and one who doesn't know how to ask)--and a suggestion as to how to answer their questions.
There are songs and activities.
There is a place where the youngest person at the table asks four questions about the Seder's symbols.
There are obscure references to historical occurrences that on the surface don't seem to have anything to do with the story of the Exodus from Egypt.

Why is there no story in the Story?
Is this really the Socratic Method? Depending on who you talk to, the Socratic Method means slightly different things, all involving questions and answers. Rick Garlikov describes the Socratic Method as "Teaching by Asking Instead of Telling." According to Wikipedia,
The Socratic method (also known as method of elenchusSocratic irony, orSocratic debate), named after the classical Greek philosopher Socrates, is a form of inquiry and debate between individuals with opposing viewpoints based on asking and answering questions to stimulate critical thinking and to illuminate ideas.[1]
No, this is not the Socratic method. But the Seder uses outstanding educational techniques--requiring interaction between members of the group; hands-on activities; thought-provoking questions; and even some performance (traditionally, the youngest person in the room masters and chants four questions). And the result? The seder is probably the most observed Jewish practice in the world.

*   *    *    *    *    *
Pedagogy of the Oppressed is the most well-known book of Paolo Freire, and it is a book that, I confess, I have not been able to read all the way through (dense!)--but the essence is this:
In the book Freire calls traditional pedagogy the "banking model" because it treats the student as an empty vessel to be filled with knowledge, like a piggybank. However, he argues for pedagogy to treat the learner as a co-creator of knowledge. (Wikipedia)
[Note: Freire is referring to "traditional pedagogy" as the pedagogy common in Europe and the Americas in the 1800s and 1900s.]

Ultimately, the Haggadah is at least a thousand years old in one form or another, and the story of the Exodus from Egypt is even older. Since it is a story of slaves throwing off the shackles of slavery, so I will close with a few quotes from Paolo Freire's Pedagogy of the Oppressed:
"Looking at the past must only be a means of understanding more clearly what and who they are so that they can more wisely build the future."
"The greatest humanistic and historical task of the oppressed: to liberate themselves..."  
 "… Without a sense of identity, there can be no real struggle…" 
"No one is born fully-formed: it is through self-experience in the world that we become what we are."  
"Knowledge emerges only through invention and re-invention, through the restless, impatient, continuing, hopeful inquiry human beings pursue in the world, with the world, and with each other." 

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Smarter Balanced Pilot: How Will the Testing Be Given? Can You Get Out Of It?

Read Part I:
Smarter Balanced Test: Try It Out Before Your Kids Take It

Read Part II:
Smarter Balanced Comes to Ann Arbor a Year Early. Why?

Read Part III:
What is in the Smarter Balanced Test?

Part IV: How Will These Tests Be Given in the Ann Arbor Schools? What Are the Likely Impacts?

Reduced learning for freshmen, sophomores, and seniors

To begin with, each school in Ann Arbor has been given some latitude in how the tests will be administered. In some buildings, the principals may choose to shorten the other classes in a day, and clump the tests at one time (for all the juniors). In other buildings, the principals may choose to pull out the students only from their English and Math classes.

Either way, you end up interrupting the other classes. For example, in the case of math, where students may be a year ahead, at grade level, or a year behind, an Algebra 2 class may have sophomores, juniors, and even a few freshmen or seniors. So when you pull the juniors out of the math class for the pilot test, will the teacher continue to teach the other grades? If they teach them something substantive, the juniors lose out on the lesson and the teacher will likely need to repeat it. If they don't teach the other students something substantive, then it's likely a waste of time for the others. Either way, that is a lose-lose situation.

Another choice is to change the length of time for the class periods. In that case, every class would meet on a certain day (say, for 35 minutes instead of the usual class period). If that happens, then every class is shortened, and the other grades also have less time in school.

In the winter, when the schools gave the (mandatory) MEAP to juniors, my son (a freshman) had a couple of days off in school, and another day where the classes were half an hour long. Whatever you think of the testing itself for the juniors, that was definitely a waste of time for him.

Access to Computers

Probably the other largest area of concern has to do with access to computers. At the comprehensive high schools I think there are 350-400 students in the junior classes. In order to take the test, every junior needs a computer. This is between 10 and 15 classes worth of students. Can the schools even give every junior a test at the same time? Do they need to commandeer every mobile computer lab? Take over all the general purpose computer labs? During that week (just like during the NWEA MAP test, which will be given in the elementary and middle schools in May, again), other students won't be able to use those computers for research, powerpoints, web site creation, or computer programming.

Notification of Parents

Parents were notified immediately before spring break. A friend sent me the notice that Skyline parents got. Here is a copy of the letter. And here is a copy of the "Smarter Balanced" fact sheet.

I personally thought the letter was pretty reasonable. (I couldn't tell if it was only sent to parents of juniors or to all parents--it reads like it was sent to all parents.)

But one friend whose children are at Skyline had a slightly different reaction:

REALLY????? MORE testing for Juniors? And they make it sound like we've won a prize!
Dear Valued Skyline Families,
Skyline High School was chosen by the Michigan Department of Education to participate this spring in the pilot of the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  (Emphasis added.)

At Skyline, the principal (Cory McElmeel) writes:
For our school, students in 11th grade have been selected to take the pilot test in English Language Arts and Mathematics. The mathematics portion of the assessment for non-accommodated students will take place during 4th and 5th periods on Tuesday, April 15th and Wednesday, April 16th.  Students with accommodations will take the mathematics assessment during 1st and 2nd periods on those same days.  The English language Arts portion of the assessment for non-accommodated students will take place during 1st and 2nd periods on Tuesday, April 23rd and Thursday, April 25th and during Skytime on Wednesday, April 24th.  Students with accommodations will take the English Language Arts assessment during 4th and 5th periods on those same days.

So, the letter is not the problem--but you might think it's a problem that students will lose a couple of hours of school on four different days. And as I mentioned, that cannot help but affect students in the other grades. Or, as a second friend wrote me, 

Here’s my beef:  Juniors just had a bunch of testing in mid-March, which came the week before final exams. Now here were have another bunch of testing, coming just a few weeks before AP exams.

The Solution Is In Our Reach: Opting Out Is Easy

Now, the real reason I said I feel the letter is reasonable? Try this part of the letter: 

Participation is voluntary and confidential, and your child’s grades will not be affected by his or her participation. . . If you do not want your child to participate in the pilot or if you have any questions regarding your child’s participation, please contact me.

In other words--the district is making it very easy to opt out of this test. Just email the principal of the school your child is in, and say, "I do not want you to administer the Smarter Balanced test to my child."  

And by the way--the NWEA MAP test is coming soon to an elementary or middle school near you, and you can employ the "opt out" strategy for that test as well. It's not mandatory. 

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Monday, April 7, 2014

What is in the Smarter Balanced Pilot Test?

Read Part I:
Smarter Balanced Test: Try It Out Before Your Kids Take It

Read Part II:
Smarter Balanced Comes to Ann Arbor a Year Early. Why?

And here is Part III.

What is in the Smarter Balanced Pilot Test and How Will It Be Given?

The Smarter Balanced Test is a non-timed test (although there is a certain amount of time that they expect the test to take. It is given on a computer. The testing can be split up over several days. The test itself includes a variety of types of questions, including questions that are "drag and drop" (you drag objects into a location and "drop" them there); "click stick" (also known as click-stick-click-drop, and it requires less fine motor skills); multiple choice; and short answer questions. All of the answers, including the short answers, are graded by a computer. Smarter Balanced calls the computer program that delivers the test the "test delivery system." I'm not sure why I find that so humorous, but I do.

There are two parts to the Smarter Balanced Test. There is a "non-performance task" section--estimated to be two hours long for the English Language Arts section, and two hours long for the Math section. And there is a "performance task" section, which involves a half-hour classroom activity that is supposed to provide a "baseline" for a theme, and related to that there is an ELA section (estimated at two hours long) and a Math section (estimated at an hour and a half).

The idea of the performance-based task is that it allows testing of critical thinking and problem solving. The example I was given was that if you had a class task about teen driving restrictions, that there would be baseline information shared about those, and students would then be able to incorporate that information into their activities.

The classroom task itself is considered "non-secured," but at the same time, "Students may take notes during this time, but the notes must be collected before proceeding to the PT. Students may not use notes taken during the classroom activity for the PT." (Source.) Also, if students are absent the teachers are supposed to try to give the students who missed a similar experience.

The pilot tests are not "adaptive," they are "fixed." (In other words, they are the same for every student. Supposedly, the actual test will be made adaptive next year.)

Read lots more about the Smarter Balanced test here:

Classroom Task and Performance Task Administration Guidelines

Frequently Asked Questions for Spring 2014 Field Test

Here are the goals of the Smarter Balanced test, as taken from the Smarter Balanced Assessment web site:

  • Accurately describe both student achievement and growth of student learning as part of program evaluation and school, district, and state accountability systems; 
  • Provide valid, reliable, and fair measures of students’ progress toward, and attainment of the knowledge and skills required to be college- and career-ready; and 
  • Capitalize on the strengths of computer adaptive testing—efficient and precise measurement across the full range of achievement and quick turnaround of results. (emphases added)

Just a comment about that "valid, reliable, and fair measures" piece. In case it's not obvious, if you don't read well, you are not going to do well on the math test, even if you are a math whiz.

As for "efficient and precise measurement," given that computers will be assessing students' writing, I'm not sure how precise it will be, although it certainly will be efficient!

But enough about the test.
I'm more interested in the testing.

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Sunday, April 6, 2014

"Smarter Balanced" Comes to Ann Arbor a Year Early. Why?

A few weeks ago, a couple of teachers emailed me. Here's a sample email.

"If you haven't already heard, I thought I'd alert you that Pioneer (and some of the other comprehensive high schools) have added at the state's request about ten hours of additional testing - 4 1/2 in English and 4 1/2 in math. It is some sort of pilot of the Smarter Balanced test. This will happen in April, right before APs, for the junior class. The juniors will miss 5 English and 5 math classes in April! There is an "explanation" but it all seems really fishy to me. There was mention of the state paying us do do this, but then we were told that wasn't true. It all seems suspect to me and really a crime against our juniors who have already done the MME." (Emphases added.)
I started doing a little investigating,  and that's why I wrote, last week:

Smarter Balanced Test: Try It Out Before Your Kids Take It

(You can find the link to a sample test there.)

I also asked for some information from the school district, and I appreciate the time that Jeanice Swift, LeeAnn Dickinson-Kelly, Jane Landefeld and Merri Lynn Colligan spent explaining both the pilot test and the district's point of view to me. I think it's fair to say that the district's point of view is not the same as the parents' or teachers' or kids' point of view (at least not based on the emails I've gotten or seen posted on Facebook). That is at least partly because the district is beholden to the state in a way that the parents, teachers, and kids are not.

So, in fact--yes. All of the high schools will be piloting at least some portion of the Smarter Balanced test--with the exception of Community, which apparently did this pilot last year.  By ALL of the high schools, I mean: Pioneer, Skyline, Huron, Ann Arbor Tech, and Clemente. Huron will only test the English Language Arts (ELA) test, and the others will test both ELA and Math. The decision of which schools to test was made by the Smarter Balanced Consortium itself and not by the district.

The test window is from April 7th to May 16th for all of the schools (which really means it starts April 14th since the schools are closed this week), but Pioneer got an extension to June 6th. (I don't know why, but...) Each school has a fair amount of autonomy as to how the tests will be given. More about that later.

So why is this happening? 

The district got a Technical Readiness Infrastructure Grant. To receive it, the district needed to promise to meet nine criteria. (I think some other districts in the county also got this, but I don't know which ones. In the grant they refer to charter schools as "districts" as well.) I am hoping to get the district's grant itself, soon, but in the meantime, you can enjoy reading the RFP and the FAQ and all that other good stuff from the state Department of Education itself. One of the requirements is that at least 20% of district students "pilot" online assessments of various stripes--there are many more of those than even I was aware of!

Read the state's RFP. Here's a little excerpt:


The Technology Readiness Infrastructure Grant Program will fund the following

1. Developing and implementing collaborative purchasing arrangements for
statewide network services, and personal learning and assessment devices.
2. Establishing sustainable, cost effective collaborations of technology and data
related services to assist schools and districts to become “test ready.” 

3. Building the capacity of educators at ISDs, public school districts, and public
school academies to effectively plan and implement online assessments and
“Any Time, Any Place, Any Way, Any Pace” learning.
Update 4/7/2014: Just to give a balanced perspective here--even though I read the grant's purpose as being All About Testing, a friend who is a teacher in another district that has this same grant wrote me (after I posted this), that there are some very good things coming out of the technology infrastructure grants. 

She wrote, 
In my experience, it's not at all about extra testing. Our team is 100% responsible for implementation and we are using it to do teacher training on subjects like using gaming in classrooms and integrating byd (cell phones etc) into classrooms without access to computer labs. I'm using my time to do pilot programs on 20time which is very unschooling and open in philosophy, and a minecraft classroom.

And here are some reasons that the district thought applying for this grant, and doing this extra testing, would be a good idea. (And here, I'm trying to put forth the district's "best foot," so to speak.)

Smarter Balanced is going to replace the MEAP next year, and:

a. since the test will be given online, this gives the district a chance to test their systems and technology
b. allows teachers and administrators to get a much better idea of what the test is like (those "sample" tests you can take don't really do it)--this could allow them to prepare for professional development and prepare students as to what to expect
c. they get paid for it--not a huge amount, but $10/student in the district. Given the tightness of the budget, that is not insignificant. (Although it does also tell you how much staff time and effort these online assessments take. I think the district sees this as a mostly-break-even deal.)

Last, but not least, the district sees this as preparing for mandated, high-stakes testing.

There is more that I could say. There is more that I will say. (All week!)

But for right now, I think the key points to remember are:

a. It may be state mandated in the future, but it isn't mandated this year. This year, it is voluntary.

b. When it is mandated, it is really high stakes for the district, but not really for the students. (It won't be used, for example, for grade promotion.)

c. Current plans from the state are for the Smarter Balanced test to be given to 3d to 8th graders, and high school juniors.

d. Kudos to the district for making it clear that taking the test is voluntary, and making it easy for parents to opt their children out of these tests. You just have to send the principal an email or letter saying that is what you are doing.

Read more about the money flowing between the various companies for all this testing. But Michigan's school districts are so hungry for cash that they will comply for chump change.

Coming soon:
--What is in the pilot, and how is it being given in different schools?
--What does the school letter look like? How are parents and teachers reacting?
--Word choice: assessment vs. testing
--Will other kids/classes (9th/10th/12th; other subjects beside English and Math) lose out?
--If we didn't use tests, what other outcomes could we use?

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Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Brush With Fame: Brooklyn Parents Opting Out

Today, I had a brush with fame.

I know, you're thinking that it had something to do with President Obama's visit to Zingerman's. And it didn't--although both my son and our exchange student were trapped in Community High School during the Obama lockdown. [Recap: They didn't get to meet the President, though they did meet some secret service agents. Our exchange student almost missed getting to the Skyline Junior Varsity first tennis match--versus Canton. Skyline won. Go Skyline!]

Liz Rosenberg, Kemala Karmen, and
Dionne Grayman are the co-founders of Kemala is on the far right.
In any case, the brush with fame that I'm talking about has to do with the fact that our dear friend Kemala Karmen, one of the co-founders of, is extensively quoted by Diane Ravitch at an "Opt Out of Testing" rally.

And by extensively, I really mean that Ravitch's entire blog post is devoted to Kemala's remarks! I know, I know, Diane Ravitch publishes several posts a day--unlike me. Nonetheless, it's still pretty cool. states, in its "About Us" section of its website, "Democracy is something that public school parents must have more access to. That’s why we are creating this organization." I couldn't possibly agree more. That's why I write this blog.

Here is some of what Kemala has to say:
“Now we can add one more way in which Brooklyn is blazing a trail: the parents of Brooklyn, outraged by the hijacking of our childrens’ educations, outraged by the assault on our public schools and on our public school teachers, we parents of Brooklyn are taking a stand. Whether we live in Brownsville or Cobble Hill, Ft. Greene or Greenpoint, we are saying ENOUGH! Stop using the blunt instrument of the state ELA and math tests to rank and sort our children, our teachers, and our schools. . . 
“So now, we parents are invoking the only tool we have left. In growing numbers, we are refusing to let our children take these tests. No test score means no data. No data on which to base teacher evaluations. No data on which to justify school closings. No sensitive, personal data that follows our children from year to year, from school to school. . .  
This morning parents at our District 15 school stand together with parents at other Brooklyn schools to announce the explosive growth of test resistance in our borough, a movement that is gaining momentum elsewhere, too—in the city, and the state, and, really, anywhere in the country where parents see the joys of teaching and learning constrained, the spark of curiosity and creativity snuffed out. . . 
It may be April Fools Day, but these tests and, indeed, the whole edifice of corporate “education reform” built upon these tests is no joke. It is no laughing matter when millions are diverted away from our children’s classrooms and into the hands of for-profit companies. It fails to amuse when our class sizes become so large that even our best teachers are hard pressed to know each child. 

Kemala, I'm proud of you! Read the full text of Kemala's speech here.

[And for another post on assessment, you might enjoy "Should there be public ratings for airline pilots?"]

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Monday, March 31, 2014

Smarter Balanced Test: Try It Out Before Your Kids Take It

Wondering what Smarter Balanced is?

It sounds like margarine, right?

It's not. It's a test. It's the test that is supposed to replace the MEAP test (but be given in the spring, and on computers). And it's supposed to be "Common Core aligned." And it's going to be longer than the MEAP. [It's state-mandated. So whatever school district or charter school you are in, this test should be of interest to you.]

But hey, it's got a logo that looks like it belongs to a forestry group.

Read the web page here.

According to this fact sheet by Fair Test, "Two multi-state consortia — the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) and the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) — won federal grants to develop Common Core tests, which are due to be rolled out in 2014-15."

In Michigan, we will be using Smarter Balanced.
Here's a nice article on how the Smarter Balanced test is going to fund for-profit corporations. (OK, really--not so "nice." But it's worth paying attention to this!)

As Fair Test points out,
Proponents initially hyped new assessments that they said would measure – and help teachers promote – critical thinking. In fact, the exams will remain predominantly multiple choice. Heavy reliance on such items continues to promote rote teaching and learning. Assessments will generally include just one session of short performance tasks per subject. Some short-answer and “essay” questions will appear, just as on many current state tests. Common Core math items are often simple computation tasks buried in complex and sometimes confusing “word problems” (PARCC, 2012; SBAC, 2012). The prominent Gordon Commission of measurement and education experts concluded Common Core tests are currently “far from what is ultimately needed for either accountability or classroom instructional improvement purposes” (Gordon Commission, 2013).
Oh yeah, and also? It's a computer-based test which means it is going to hog up the school computers. I sure am glad I voted for that technology millage...

Curious about the test? You should be. Take a sample of the test here. [Just log in as a "guest."]

And then? Please share your observations about the test sample in the comments section.

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Thursday, March 27, 2014

Grab Bag: Open Conference Review, Same Sex Marriage

Open Conference Review

Last weekend, while I was at the County Clerk's office witnessing an historic event, the Open School Conference was happening at a lovely Lithuanian heritage camp, Camp Dainava, outside Manchester. So I didn't really know what happened there, except that one friend told me it was very interesting to hear about the progressive/open school in Boston, Mission Hill.

But yesterday I found out that Nancy Flanagan wrote the loveliest piece about the Open School Conference in Education Week! Titled, "What Professional Development Should Be," she writes, in part,

I was there to present on teacher leadership. I was prepared to share dramatic, even shocking information about the staggering gap between custom-tailored teaching practice and state and federal policy. I planned to tell them about teacher leadership "programs"--where "leaders" are selected and trained and funded, to do the bidding of organizations and promote policy initiatives. I wanted to talk about role-based leaders with defined duties, contrasted with a more organic kind of leadership--leadership that emerges from place and need. Which--it suddenly struck me--was present, in spades, in the room already. A principal who enthusiastically attends a conference planned entirely by her teachers, to learn with them? Teachers who won't let their internally-designed spring weekend together die, after three decades? Precious time set aside to talk about things that matter most in serving the 500 children in their collective care, as educators and parents? If that's not natural and authentic leadership, I don't know what is.
Read the entire article here. (You may have to register for Education Week, but you do get ten free articles a month for that.)

And another thing worth noting about the Open School Conference. Not only did Kit Flynn, Ann Arbor Open principal, attend, but so did the Ann Arbor schools superintendent, Jeanice Swift, and Dawn Linden, the Executive Director for Elementary Education. That may be the first time that has happened--but if not, it's certainly the first time in a long time! Thank you, Jeanice and Dawn, for showing up! I hope you enjoyed it as much as Nancy Flanagan did.

Same Sex Marriage Redux

I was disappointed--no, disappointed isn't the right word. I'm disappointed when I go to a party and none of the desserts are my favorites.

I was infuriated, dismayed, frustrated, and saddened by the Attorney General's decision to appeal Judge Friedman's ruling. To me, it's a waste of taxpayer money. I sent the Attorney General and the Governor this twitter message, but I guess it didn't make a difference.

Don't be mistaken, this ruling affects many children, parents, and teachers in the Ann Arbor schools, and in the various Washtenaw County school districts. Let the governor and attorney general know how you feel!

At one point, on Saturday, I watched the pastor of Ann Arbor's First Unitarian Universalist congregation (Rev. Gail Geisenhainer) perform a wedding ceremony on one side of me, and on the other side, the rabbi of the reform Jewish congregation Temple Beth Emeth (Rabbi Bob Levy) performed a wedding ceremony at the same time. It's worth noting that both couples who were getting married have children in local school districts.

Then yesterday I was thinking about a quote that is sometimes attributed to Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice." But it turns out that both he and Rabbi Jacob Kohn (who said something similar in 1940, during World War II), were basing their quotes on the quote of someone else, most likely Theodore Parker, who was a Unitarian minister and abolitionist. And Parker wrote:

Look at the facts of the world. You see a continual and progressive triumph of the right.* I do not pretend to understand the moral universe, the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways. I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. But from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice. 
Theodore Parker, 1857
*By "right," he didn't mean "right wing" but "morally right"
**Read the interesting history of this quote at Quote Investigator.

And that quote put me in mind of this photo that I took a couple of years ago.

Photo by Ruth Kraut. Creative Commons license.

May that arc speedily bend toward justice!

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Saturday, March 22, 2014

Love, Michigan (=)

It's a New Day in Michigan. Read Judge Bernard Friedman's excellent ruling here.

My friends' daughter holds her moms' wedding rings
during their ceremony today (Saturday, 3/22/2014). The hands, of course,
are every Michigander's symbol of Michigan.

IV. Conclusion 
In attempting to define this case as a challenge to “the will of the people,” Tr. 2/25/14 p. 40, state defendants lost sight of what this case is truly about: people. No court record of this proceeding could ever fully convey the personal sacrifice of these two plaintiffs who seek to ensure that the state may no longer impair the rights of their children and the thousands of others now being raised by same-sex couples. It is the Court’s fervent hope that these children will grow up “to understand the integrity and closeness of their own family and its concord with other families in their community and in their daily lives.” Windsor, 133 S. Ct. at 2694. Today’s decision is a step in that direction, and affirms the enduring principle that regardless of whoever finds favor in the eyes of the most recent majority, the guarantee of equal protection must prevail.

IT IS HEREBY DECLARED that Article I, § 25 of the Michigan Constitution and its
implementing statutes are unconstitutional because they violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

Today, at the Washtenaw County Clerk's Office, Clerk Lawrence Kestenbaum had posted this sign: 

I especially appreciated this part of Judge Friedman's ruling:

Taking the state defendants’ position to its logical conclusion, the empirical evidence at hand should require that only rich, educated, suburban-dwelling, married Asians may marry, to the exclusion of all other heterosexual couples. Obviously the state has not adopted this policy and with good reason. The absurdity of such a requirement is self-evident. Optimal academic outcomes for children cannot logically dictate which groups may marry. 


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Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Myth of Sisyphus, and the Myth of the EAA, with Kudos to the Ann Arbor School Board

I've been thinking lately about the Myth of Sisyphus. Sisyphus, you may recall, is condemned to eternally push a stone up a hill, even while the stone rolls down the hill. I've been thinking about the myth of Sisyphus in regard to an endless succession (in that sense, not a single boulder, but rather a rock fall) of terrible education-related legislation proposed by the state legislature. Those of us working against bad legislation seem to be constantly fighting a losing battle.

Drawing by Ruth Kraut. 2014. Creative Commons license.

That losing battle was in full view this week, with education advocates working hard to defeat the bill expanding the Education Achievement Authority. Today, those efforts failed. On Facebook, Steve Norton of Michigan Parents for Schools posted this picture of the vote in the House: 

Photo (or screen shot?) of the House TV screen showing the EAA vote.

There were 56 votes to pass the--a bare majority. Many thanks to most of our local representatives for voting No--that includes Driskell, Irwin, Rutledge and Zemke. Democrats who voted Yes were Olumba and Santana. According to Gongwer, five Republicans voted No – Rep. Jon Bumstead of Newaygo, Rep. Ben Glardon of Owosso, Rep. Peter Pettalia of Presque Isle, Rep. Phil Potvin of Cadillac and Rep. Pat Somerville of New Boston. (If you happen to live near them, thank them!)

But ultimately, I'm more than hopeful that the story of Sisyphus is not the story of the EAA. I believe that the myth of the EAA as a productive school environment will be exposed. The myth of what the EAA does will be shown to be as fraudulent as the Wizard in the Wizard of Oz. Behind the green curtain. . . if there ever is actual transparency. . . we will see the EAA schools are shadows of real schools, where intellectual inquiry and passion exist. 

The EAA, and many other terrible pieces of legislation, cannot really stand the light of day. The fact that public observers didn't get to read the bill in its latest form before it was voted on is simply more proof of that.

Drawing by Ruth Kraut. 2014. Creative Commons license.

The real story will not be a myth. Eventually, I really believe that the EAA will be defeated by the power of people. Sisyphus tried to roll that boulder up that hill all by himself. That's something that we don't have to do. 

We. The. People. Have. Each. Other.

Here is part of what Rep. Ellen Cogen Lipton said on the floor today (she's the representative who got a lot of the FOIA'd documents about the EAA that you can read here):
Please know...that I know...those who will continue to fight against corporate education DE-FORM know...and most importantly that the children trapped in the EAA know....just how well we fought, and will continue to fight the EAA. They can pass the bill over our objections and ignoring the facts, but we know it is a failure in every way. Thank you to every Education Warrior, the thousands of you across the state. Please know...the fight begins anew....justice and truth WILL prevail.

And that's why I was so pleasantly surprised to see that the Ann Arbor Public Schools board, last night (March 19, 2014) voted to ask Eastern Michigan University to no longer authorize the EAA! The EAA needs an "authorizer" to operate.

It's an excellent resolution, passed unanimously. Read the full resolution here.

To cut to the chase, 

That the Ann Arbor Public Schools Board of Education
A. Urges the Eastern Michigan University Board of Regents:
 1. To discontinue its affiliation and partnership with the EAA;  2. To work in concert with local public school districts in opposing efforts to destabilize, defund and deconstruct community-based and -governed traditional public education;  3. Go on record as opposing the State’s efforts to rid communities of the opportunity to participate in and govern their local schools; and  4. Build, foster and expand opportunities to work more collaboratively with student teacher placement and similar efforts with traditional public school systems, including the Ann Arbor Public Schools. 
B. Urges State lawmakers to oppose HB 4369 which would expand the destructive model of EAA to a wider arena.

Well done, Ann Arbor School Board! Since I know sometimes I (and many others) are critical of what the school board does, when they do something we like we should also let them know. Send a quick note to the Board of Education at:

Monday, March 17, 2014

Ann Arbor Schools: Budget Meetings for This Year and Next

2013-2014 Budget Needs Mid-Year Revisions

For details, you can see Amy Biolchini's article.

But here is the key point: as a result of students choosing charters, private schools, or the WISD consortium, the Ann Arbor schools were short 200 students compared to what was budgeted.

The important meeting is Wednesday, March 19th. From the article:

The budget adjustment will be a part of budget planning discussions the school board is set to begin Wednesday in a 5 p.m. study session at Skyline High School.
Immediately following the study session will be the board’s regular business meeting, which is set to start at 7 p.m. Wednesday.
The meeting is a make-up session for the March 12 regular meeting that was canceled due to inclement weather.

2014-2015 Budget Planning

AAPS will be hosting a round of budget forums to discuss the 2014-15 AAPS budget. 

All forums are scheduled from 6:30 – 8pm

Tuesday, March 25, 6:30 p.m. at Slauson Middle School 

Thursday, March 27, 6:30 p.m. at Scarlett Middle School 

Monday, March 31, 6:30 p.m. at Clague Middle School

Tuesday, April 1, 6:30 p.m. at Forsythe Middle School 

Thursday, April 3, 6:30 p.m. at Tappan Middle School

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Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Is EAA Pressure Starting to Get to EMU?

I hope so!

Forum Tomorrow at EMU: Wednesday, March 12, 11 a.m.

On Wednesday, March 12, from 11 a.m. to noon in the Student Center Auditorium, the Office of the Provost will host a forum on the Educational Achievement Authority (EAA). The forum’s participants will include EAA Chancellor John Covington as well as students, staff, faculty and parents from the district. The format of the forum includes a presentation by the EAA participants about the EAA’s mission, activities and results. That will be followed by a Q&A session to support the audience’s questions. The forum will be taped for those who can not attend. Public parking is available in the Student Center parking lots off Oakwood Street and Huron River Drive.

(h/t: HSM)

EAA Board Meeting Thursday, March 13th, 4 p.m. in Detroit

This meeting will be held in the Frank Hayden Community Room, #236, on the downtown campus of Wayne County Community College (1001 West Fort Street, Detroit.)

Eclectablog notes:

After canceling their February meeting, the EAA Board of Directors is meeting for the first time since early December. Apparently there hasn’t been anything of significance happening with their school district since then that warranted them meetings. The Board, which started out with 11 members, is down to six members. In fact, three of the existing members’ terms have actually expired:
  • Mark Murray’s 1 year term expired on August 11, 2012
  • William Pickard’s 2 year term expired on August 11, 2013
  • Roy Roberts’ 2 year term expired on August 11, 2013
This meeting is open to the public and the announcement for it can be found HERE.On the agenda is the expansion of the EAA by adding a new high school near Phoenix Elementary in the southwest part of Detroit.

And by the way, if you are interested in going to the protest, that will start at 3:30. You can RSVP here--or just show up on Thursday.

Sign A Petition?

Also, if you are interested, there is a petition to Governor Snyder to shut down the EAA because it is a "failed experiment."

Sign here.

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Sunday, March 9, 2014

OCR Complaint Resolved; Ann Arbor News Article Sows Some Confusion

Community High School. Picture taken from the CHS web page.

Last spring (May 2013), a family leveled a complaint against the Ann Arbor Public Schools regarding the admissions process to Community High School. The complaint alleges that Community High School discriminates against special education students in the admissions process and that this student was discriminated against because his/her IEP team (team that recommends how a student's special education needs should be handled by the district) was not allowed to recommend CHS as a placement for him/her.

When I read the article about the complaint in the Ann Arbor News, it led me to believe that the US Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights (OCR) was forcing the district to change its policy around the Community High School lottery in regards to the admission of special education students.

The article also led me to understand that the complaint alleged that the district allowed CHS to decide whether kids with disabilities would be allowed into Community High School, after they got in through the lottery.

I do not have access to the actual complaint that was filed, nor to the Agreement submitted to OCR by the Ann Arbor Public Schools.  I have read the letter from OCR confirming the Agreement, and you can read it right here. Re-reading both the Ann Arbor News article and the OCR letter, I still find the writing confusing.

The student's family did allege that the district would only allow students with disabilities to enroll at Community High School if CHS offered the disability-related services that were needed by that student. They also alleged that the student's IEP team was not allowed to recommend CHS as a placement option for him. They provided as proof some language from the CHS admissions/applications handouts.

Based on two conversations I had with AAPS staff members, it seems that the student's family wanted to go around the lottery system, and use the IEP team's recommendation that CHS would be the best environment for the student to get the student placed at Community. (I presume--but don't know for sure--that they went this route because the student did not get in by the lottery.)  The district said no, the IEP team cannot recommend CHS as a placement, the lottery determines placement at CHS.

Although the discussions that ended in the settlement are shrouded in attorney-client privilege, based on the OCR letter it looks like the district proved to Office of Civil Rights that they will provide whatever services are needed (presumably following the recommendations of the IEP team) at CHS for a student with disabilities who gets into CHS via the lottery.  But is also seems clear that the district will still not allow an IEP team to determine that CHS needs to be the placement for a student with an IEP outside of the lottery system.

In other words, the Office of Civil Rights will allow AAPS to continue to use the lottery as the way that students are admitted--or denied admission--to Community.  Only after a student gains access to a Community slot through the lottery will the IEP team help CHS figure out what accommodations/supports the student needs.

It does appear that some of the CHS admissions/applications language that was a subject of the complaint was changed.  The OCR letter indicates that the District agreed
to eliminate any statements advising or suggesting that special education services are not available at CHS or similar statements that might discourage students with disabilities from applying for enrollment at CHS
so that the district is fully in compliance with federal law.

Still confused?

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Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Part II: Please Take the Time to Comment on Michigan's Proposed Special Education Rules

If you read yesterday's post,

you know that major changes are being proposed by the Michigan Department of Education to the rules that guide special education in Michigan.

According to Marcie Lipsitt:

The MI Dept. of Ed states that the rule revisions will bring our verbiage in line with the federal law, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”). This is another way of misleading parents, teachers and concerned citizens.  Eliminating state-imposed rules is not done to bring rules in line with federal law. This is done to bring down costs and reduce the number of children found eligible, while reducing necessary specialized instruction...
Contrary to MI DOE’s assertion, these proposed revisions have nothing to do with “improving student outcomes.”  Rather, they will allow Michigan, ISDs and LEAs to balance their budgets on the backs of students with disabilities. Eliminating the state-imposed special education rules that govern teacher caseloads, special education programs, program sizes and student age spans will not improve outcomes. The most recent data out of the MI Dept. of Ed, Annual Performance Review (February 2014) documents that only 52-percent of students with IEPs graduated high school with a diploma. Michigan needs to turn every possible child into a productive taxpayer. Gutting our special education rules is not the answer and 188,000 students will have no reason to stay home from school in September 2014. Do we really want to send special education and students with disabilities back to the days of being unwelcome guests in our public schools? The answer is a resounding NO. 
The time to comment is short. Comments are only being accepted until March 13th at 5 p.m.!

Below, you will find information about how to comment, and what you might want to say. Since the initial announcement was made, they have added ways to comment via an online form and via email (still no fax)--so I would say that the pressure is working. Keep it up!

Links with Background Information

If you're like me, you are not a special education expert, so here is some more information.

Proposed Rule Changes, from MDE, with strikethroughs and bold text to show the changes.

MDE's Summary of Rule Changes
(Remember: the current rule changes are being described--disingenuously--as minor changes. Really, they're major!)

Michigan Protection and Advocacy's comments on the rules

What the Special Education Rule Changes Will Mean for Kids
(I took this from a parent listserve--I'm not sure who wrote it--but it has very clear examples of the effects of various changes. And did you know that if the autism rule changes take effect, Michigan will have the most restrictive rules in the nation--and they won't be using accepted medical diagnostic criteria either.)

How to Comment

1. Mail:
Public Comment, Office of Special Education
Michigan Department of Education
P.O. Box 30008
Lansing, MI 48909

2. Online submissions form:
(You would think this would be the easiest way to comment, but it asks you to comment on each specific rule, so--kind of a pain! However, if you want to use it, I have a handy list down below.)

3. Email (recently added under pressure--a small victory):
Note that the name of the person making the comment must be included in the email.

4. Go to one of the two public hearings being held on Monday, March 10th:
1:00 p.m.–3:00 p.m.
Detroit School of Arts, 123 Selden Street, Detroit, Michigan 48201
4:00 p.m.–6:00 p.m.
Lansing Community College West Campus, 5708 Cornerstone Drive, Lansing, Michigan 48917

There is also a Change.Org petition, which you can sign here. The petition asks Governor Snyder to withdraw the changes to MARSE (the Michigan special education rules) immediately.

What to Say About the Special Education Rules 

You have a few options. One option is to submit a general statement of opposition, and/or ask them to withdraw the rules entirely. Another option is to focus on a few of the rule changes that concern you most. Alternatively, respond to the entire list of rules changes.

Marcie Lipsitt has allowed me to share a detailed, rule-by-rule, response that I found very helpful and have pasted in below.

R, 340,1701 a(c)(v): I oppose removing the phrase "or court decision" from the scope of the complaint. Court decisions are used to provide guidance on students rights under the IDEA and a denial of FAPE. 

R 340.1702- 
1. I oppose defining a student as a student with a disability until completing the high school graduation requirements to earn a diploma. This will allow districts to push students through in 4 years and negate the availability of a 5th and 6th year of high school. 
2. I oppose defining parents as "qualified professionals." IDEA recognizes parents as valued members of the IEP team. This rule could be interpreted to exclude parents that lack professional qualifications. This does not align with 300.306.

R 340.1706 Emotional Impairment: I oppose removal of the MET. This will reduce the depth and breadth of of the evaluation conducted to determine a student's eligibility. Especially when a Cognitive and Achievement battery are critical to rule out a learning disability and to understand what can be contributing to a student's emotional and behavioral dysregulation. 

R 340.1707 Hearing Impairment: I oppose removal of the MET. This will reduce the depth and breadth of of the evaluation conducted to determine a student's eligibility. 

R 340.1708 Visual Impairment: I oppose removal of the MET. This will reduce the depth and breadth of of the evaluation conducted to determine a student's eligibility. 

R 340.1709 Physical Health Impairment: I oppose removal of the MET. This will reduce the depth and breadth of of the evaluation conducted to determine a student's eligibility. 

R 340.1709a Other Health Impairment: 

1. I oppose removal of the MET. This will reduce the depth and breadth of of the evaluation conducted to determine a student's eligibility. Especially when a Cognitive and Achievement battery are critical to rule out or rule in comorbid learning deficits in written expression and math due to the adverse impact of ADHD.

2. I oppose allowing a Physician's Assistant to evaluate for an Other Health Impairment. PA's do not have the training necessary to evaluate for the conditions eligible under OHI. 

R. 340.1710 Speech-Language: 
1. I oppose removing the MET.
2. I oppose removing the language that could suggest that a student cannot receive a Speech service without eligibility. The word "may" leaves this "service" open to interpretation. 

R 340.1711 Early Childhood Developmental Delay: I oppose removing the MET. This will reduce the depth and breadth of the evaluation conducted to determine the student's eligibility.

R 340.1713 Specific Learning Disability: I oppose removing the MET. This will reduce the depth and breadth of the evaluation conducted to determine the student's eligibility.

R 340.1714 Severely-Multiply Impaired: I oppose removing the MET. This will reduce the depth and breadth of the evaluation conducted to determine the student's eligibility.

R 340.1715 ASD: 
I am outraged by the MDE's description of the proposed changes to the ASD eligibility. 

1. You have proposed removing "such as" and changing it to "including" for "eye-to-eye gaze, facial expression, body posture, and social interaction." This will require students to have "all" of these impairments instead of "such as." This is an insidious change in verbiage that will dramatically reduce the number of children eligible. Even now it is too subjective when social workers, speech and language clinicians and teachers decide if a student can or can't make eye contact. 
2. I oppose removing the MET as this will reduce the depth and breadth of the evaluation used to determine eligibility. 

R 340.1716 Traumatic Brain Injury: 
1. I do not support removal of the MET as this will reduce the scope of the depth and breadth of the evaluation.
2. I do not support allowing a Physician's Assistant to evaluate for eligibility. 

R 340.1716 Deaf-Blindness
1. I do not support removal of the MET as this will reduce the scope of the depth and breadth of the evaluation conducted to determine a student's eligibility.
2. I oppose allowing a Physician's Assistant to evaluate for eligibility. This is inconsistent with those allowed to evaluate for a Hearing Impairment and a Visual Impairment. This short changes those students with concomitant deaf-blindness

R. 340.1721: I oppose as I am completely opposed to the revisions in R 340.1721b. The verbiage is confusing and can be misinterpreted. 

R 340.1721a: I oppose as the verbiage is confusing and will be misinterpreted by too many school districts 

R 340.1721b (1): I support none of these proposed revisions with the exception of firmly establishing the 30 school days to evaluate and have an IEP team meeting. I strongly oppose excluding the IEP team from the 30 school days and requiring that parents sign the consent for special education prior to an IEP team meeting. This is virtually requiring parents to consent blindly to the contents of an IEP when they are valued members of the IEP team. 

R 340.1721e: I oppose removal of the short term objectives. Parents fought this removal hard in 2008 and oppose it for the same reason in 2014. Short term objectives are the only way to measure a student's progress on an annual goal. 

R 340.1722: I oppose this revision as it will be open to interpretation and misunderstanding between districts and parents. This could lead to parents being forced to file more written complaints and due process hearings. 

R. 340.1724: I oppose as I am opposed to the state superintendent's dictatorial authority due to Gov Engler's 1996 executive orders. 

R 340.1724: I oppose requiring school districts to notify the MDE when a parent files a civil suit following an ALJ's decision in a Due Process

R 340.1724: I oppose giving school districts additional time to pay their share of the cost of a Due Process hearing. 

R 340.1832 (d): I strongly oppose giving school districts and ISDs permission to determine special ed staffing annually. MI districts and ISDs will balance their budget on the backs of students with disabilities.

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